Booking the UFC’s pay-per-view main events for the first half of 2021
While speaking to media members after Anderson Silva’s fight against Uriah Hall on Halloween in 2020, UFC president Dana White made a series of comments that caught the attention of fans around the world.
In the MMA equivalent of Adrian Wojnarowski’s “Woj Bombs” as an NBA reporter for ESPN, White dropped a few bombshells of his own regarding big names like Israel Adesanya, Conor McGregor, and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
White confirmed that Adesanya, the UFC’s lightweight champion, would not be defending his title the next time he steps into the Octagon, but will instead challenge Jan Blachowicz for the UFC’s light heavyweight championship.
He seemed to indicate that the rumored fight between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirer is a “done deal,” saying that the two would fight at lightweight in January of 2021.
And, in other news inside that division, White speculated that lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov isn’t going to stay retired for long, believing that Nurmagomedov would return to the cage in pursuit of a 30-0 record at some point in the future.
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While there are still two more events to be held to finish out 2020, many fans began to set their sights on the laundry list of fights rumored to go down in 2021. So, we did the same.
Dressing up as a “UFC matchmaker” a day after Halloween in 2020, we tried our best to fantasy-book the main events for the first half of the UFC’s pay-per-view schedule in 2021.
Some fights are close to being finalized, while others are complete speculation on our end. But, if all were to somehow be booked and go down as scheduled, UFC fans would be in for an absolute treat in 2021.
January 2021: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier
Starting off 2021 on a high note, it looks as if the rematch between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier is set for January 23, 2021, as of November 1, 2020. And, while it isn’t a title fight, the bout serves as a perfect scenario for the UFC.
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With many divisions’ title pictures at a standstill for a variety of reasons, championship bouts are tough to figure out in this day and age.
Add in the lack of PPV-caliber stars outside of the UFC’s 11 champions, and it creates a bit of an issue as the promotion looks for main events for any lulls in the schedule.
Jorge Masvidal has become a main-event player at welterweight, along with some fighters with troubled pasts like Nate Diaz and Jon Jones. But, nothing compares to the spectacle that Conor McGregor creates, with or without a title in his hands.
McGregor would be stepping into the Octagon for the first time in a full year, and would be doing so against one of the lightweight division’s best contenders. With the whole division up in the air at the moment after Khabib Nurmagomedov’s sudden retirement, this fight will have some major implications to start off the new year.
February 2021: Israel Adesanya vs. Jan Blachowicz
In the second of three “confirmed” bouts as of this writing, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will move up in weight to try to become the eighth fighter to win titles in two different divisions.
Instead of a middleweight title rematch between Adesanya and former champion Robert Whittaker, Adesanya will look to set forth on a path that could lead to one of the biggest superfights in UFC history. Hold your horses, though. You’ll read more on that later.
On the other end, newly-crowned light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz will look to establish himself as a true star in a division with little direction at the moment.
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If he loses, the weight class is back to square one, likely on standstill once again just months after Jon Jones vacated the title.
But, if he wins, he’ll provide some much-needed star power to a division that is in dire need of the spotlight, and could make a case for a big fight against Jones in the future.
Book this one for February 2021, the same month as Super Bowl Sunday, to allow ESPN to promote it as best as the network can.
March 2021: Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns
The last of the all-but-set bouts on this calendar, UFC fans can expect to see welterweight champion Kamaru Usman defend his title against No. 1 contender Gilbert Burns at some point in 2021.
Initially scheduled for July 11, 2020 on Fight Island, then rescheduled for December of 2020, the fight between Usman and Burns has hit a multitude of roadblocks throughout the year.
Between a positive COVID-19 test for Burns and longer recovery time from injuries for Usman, the fight continues to lead to disappointment for the UFC. But, Dana White insists that Burns is next in line for a title shot against Usman, and it’s just a matter of “when,” rather than “if.”
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It’s tough to book a specific date for this one without knowing what Usman is dealing with, but three extra months of recovery time seems like enough for the champion to work with.
Schedule this one for March, which sets the division up for a variety options to work with afterwards. Masvidal? Colby Covington? Nate Diaz? There are a lot of potential challengers for the UFC to work with after this fight goes down, but the bout actually needs to happen first.
April 2021: Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou
Leading off in our lineup of pure speculation, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic steps back into the Octagon against an old foe in Francis Ngannou.
The heavyweight division is a tough cookie to crack as of November 1, 2020, given the question marks that continue to surround Miocic and those around him. Jon Jones has expressed interest in a move up to heavyweight, while the potential for a Brock Lesnar return always seems to linger in the background.
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Meanwhile, Ngannou has established himself as the clear No. 1 contender for the heavyweight title, but his argument takes a hit when you reminisce on what happened the last time he met Miocic in 2018. After the mauling Miocic managed to put together, the Ngannou matchup likely doesn’t seem too appetizing for Dana White and company.
Assuming that the new plan is for Jones to return to the light heavyweight division if Israel Adesanya takes the belt from Jan Blachowicz, Miocic wouldn’t have many other options to consider at heavyweight. He’d likely be forced into a fight with Ngannou, and would need to hope for the same result as their first fight in Boston.
May 2021: Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Barring any miracles during their respective title defenses in the final two months of 2020, women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes and women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko should still be the reigning queens of the UFC’s female divisions.
Yes, UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili made a compelling case when she and Joanna Jedrzejczyk put on a show in March of 2020. But, if Nunes takes out Megan Anderson, and if Shevchenko defeats Jennifer Maia, the two will have combined for a total of 10 successful title defenses.
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Nunes’ only real challenge in recent memory has been Shevchenko, and vice versa for the “Bullet,” as well. With the UFC deciding to book a champion vs. champion bout as a solution for Israel Adesanya and Jan Blachowicz’s problems, why not do the same here?
Allow Shevchenko the chance to move up in weight, and the opportunity to battle Nunes for a third time with the women’s bantamweight belt on the line. Let two of the UFC’s best female fighters main event the card in May, creating a buffer for the UFC to work with before one of the biggest fights they could ever put together.
June 2021: Israel Adesanya vs. Jon Jones
Here we go.
Many fans reading the tea leaves believe that Israel Adesanya’s pursuit of the light heavyweight title is for a grander purpose. That purpose goes by one name: Jon Jones.
The two have been going back and forth on Twitter for months, with Adesanya’s recent title defense against Paulo Costa seemingly igniting an even-larger fire between the two fighters.
The comparisons are there, considering each fighters’ rapid rises within the UFC system. Both have proven their worth as champions in their respective divisions, and have cleared out competition in the process.
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If Adesanya wins the light heavyweight title against Blachowicz (in February of our proposed 2021 calendar), and if Jones truly wants a big-money challenge for his next fight, this seems like a no-brainer for the UFC.
Use the middle of the year as the chance to put on the biggest fights possible, spearheaded by this bout between Adesanya and Jones in June.
July 2021: Bout for the Lightweight Championship
Alright, we said this would cover the first half of 2021, but it’s time for a little bit of a bonus.
The UFC’s lightweight division is arguably the promotion’s deepest at the moment, with so much talent and so many options for Dana White and company to consider.
There’s an evident spark being created by the potential return of Conor McGregor, and the buzz created by the retirement of lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
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And, there are plenty of other big names in the conversation, whether you’re talking about Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje, and Tony Ferguson.
Who knows what’s next for the division outside of the McGregor-Poirier fight in January, and who knows what’s next for lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov?
But, no matter what, if the UFC lands a bout between Israel Adesanya and Jon Jones, they should keep up the momentum and book a lightweight title fight for the following month.
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